I can’t tell you how many hours, days, even years I’ve spent tearing myself down — and not because I don’t want to tell you, though it would probably be embarrassing to say the answer out loud. It’s just an impossible number to recall, and if I’m being completely honest, it’s still growing. Recently, I took a moment to pause and reflect on how much I’ve criticized my body over the past decade or so, and I was shocked. In that moment, I hated that I had wasted so much energy being frustrated with how I looked, when there wasn’t really anything to be critical of in the first place.
Everyone has flaws, but we see them in ourselves much easier than in other people. Often times, we are our biggest, meanest critics, which I think rings even more true when talking about body image. We’re so quick to point out even the tiniest things we don’t like about ourselves. It’s nothing to be ashamed of because we all do it, but I think it’s time we start asking ourselves why. As small children, we don’t walk around wishing we had a smaller nose, or thinner thighs, or thicker eyebrows. So, how does it start?
I can recall the first time someone ever called me “skinny.” I was in the fifth grade, and we were lining up at the door of our classroom to go outside. I was wearing a pastel pink sweater that fit me just right, when over my shoulder a classmate said, “Oh my gosh, Taryn. You’re so skinny!” I looked down at myself in my pink sweater, a little puzzled. It wasn’t something I’d ever thought about before then. At that age, I was preoccupied with thoughts about whether the Cheetah Girls would let me audition, or if I should play dodgeball or volleyball during recess. The comment was innocent enough, but when I got to middle and high school, the tone began to change.
I’ve always been in pretty good shape — I was extremely active as a kid and played a lot of sports. I was also very lucky to have parents who took the time every morning to make my brothers and I nutritious lunches, and we rarely ate junk food or went out to dinner. So, I would get a lot of comments from classmates about my body, and eventually those comments turned more and more sour. They’d say, “You’re too skinny,” or “Ugh, your thigh gap is so much bigger than mine,” or “Why do your bones stick out?” In high school, people I considered friends told me I was “disgustingly skinny” and whispered behind my back that I had an eating disorder. These comments slashed through my already fragile adolescent self-esteem and sense of self-worth, and led me to develop a negative relationship with my body where I never felt satisfied with how I looked.
Eventually, criticizing my body started to feel like a full-time job. When I look back at old photos with my friends, my first thought isn’t how much fun I was having or what made me laugh just as the picture was snapped: I only remember how worried I was about how my body looked. Often I’d become uncomfortable and anxious as photos were taken, then complain to friends about them being a bad angle. But now, as a young adult, I wonder why I thought these were such terrible pictures. Why didn’t I wear shorts and crop tops all the time? Why didn’t I take a dozen more pictures, smiling and laughing and not caring how I looked? Why couldn’t I have created a fond memory for myself, instead of ruining it by being so critical?
I was tired of wasting precious time stressing over how my body looks and what others think about it.
It’s easy to recognize now that I didn’t need to change anything about my appearance, and I’ve always known that one day I would feel the same way about my body now — but until recently, I wasn’t there yet. I couldn’t accept that it’s normal for our bodies to change, that it’s OK for that teenage figure to be replaced with cellulite and stretch marks. Instead, I beat myself up for it, like I’m a failure for allowing my body to grow since the age of 12.
Over the last few months, though, I decided enough is enough. I was tired of wasting precious time stressing over how my body looks and what others think about it. So I made it my mission to disregard stereotypes and external pressures and focus solely on my health. I vowed to stop negative thoughts in their tracks by literally walking away from them (physically moving my body is a good distraction when I begin to spiral), and I filled my days with healthy habits I truly enjoy, like stretching, drinking plenty of water, and eating delicious, nutritious meals. When I go shopping, I focus on how I feel in the clothes, instead of the size on the tag. Too tight? I go up a size. Still not right? Guess it wasn’t for me then. If I don’t feel amazing in what I’m wearing, I don’t buy it — and I don’t allow it to take a swing at my confidence.
Accepting my body hasn’t been easy. Many of you I’m sure can attest to the exhaustion that comes along with body image issues. And personally, I’m just sick of it. I want to know what it feels like to be completely comfortable with myself. And while I’m nowhere near done yet, going through this process has been a relief in many ways. As cliché as it sounds, I feel like I’m finally shedding those old layers of self-doubt and fear, and truly growing into myself — a confident, badass woman who isn’t afraid to be happy in my own skin.